When Homer wrestling coach and high school athletic director Chris Perk found out last month he was about to be inducted into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame, he found the whole thing a bit “inconvenient.”
While this might seem like an odd reaction, those who follow Homer High’s wrestling team know Perk was simply doing what any good coach would do — putting his kids first. Several Mariners wrestlers were about to enter state championship matches at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, and Perk said his mind was on them and their success.
After the dust settled, and the Mariners claimed a second Division II state championship in four years, Perk said the reality of the honor began to sink in.
“It was a total surprise,” he said. “… It was right before the finals, and so it’s like you’re trying to mentally get your kids ready.”
Perk was inducted into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame on Dec. 15, 2018, along with four other class members — Mike Kimber, Michaela Hutchison, Kirk Allen and Dan Carstens.
The Kenai Peninsula was heavily represented in the inducted class. Carstens is the principal of Nikiski Middle-High School, and Hutchison attended what was then Skyview High School just outside of Soldotna.
The hall of fame itself has been inducting members since its first class in 1984, according to Steve Gillaspie, a former wrestling coach who made several stops in the state, including Nikiski. Recently, responsibility for maintaining the hall of fame’s records has shifted hands, Gillaspie said, and all information on past classes should be migrated to a new website in the future.
This year’s class of five was a bit on the larger side, Gillaspie said. Coaches, former athletes and volunteers are nominated by people in their respective communities, he said, and inductees are chosen after a round of voting.
The contact person for Perk’s biography information for the hall of fame was Tela O’Donnell, a former Homer wrestler who represented the United States at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Gillaspie said of the hall of fame. “It brings recognition to guys in this sport that generally don’t get a lot of recognition.”
He went on to explain that it’s not just top former athletes that make it into the Alaska Wrestling Hall of Fame. It also includes coaches and community members who may never have wrestled but have dedicated years of their lives to putting on tournaments and contributing to the sport in other ways.
For Perk, the road to the hall of fame has been a few decades long. He started out as a youngster in Homer’s Popeye Wrestling Club before moving on to wrestle in middle and high school. While at Homer High, he placed fourth and second at two separate state championships. He was inducted into the Homer High School Hall of Fame in 2010.
At Pacific University, Perk won more than 100 collegiate matches from 1993-97. He is a seven-time Freestyle Alaska State Champion, and in 1997 was part of the All-Academic Team for the Northwest Collegiate Conference.
Perk didn’t stray from home for too long, though, and has been coaching in Homer since 1998. He spent six years at Homer Middle School, 12 years with the Popeye Wrestling Club and 16 years at the high school. He’s been named conference Coach of the Year three times, and in 2015 was named state Coach of the Year.
Under his guidance, the Mariners have now won 2015 and 2018 state titles, and were runners-up in 2016 and 2017.
Despite this long list of accolades, Perk said that, at first, he almost felt like he wasn’t old or accomplished enough to deserve the honor. Those who have congratulated him so far, however, have told him it’s way overdue.
“The body of work when you dedicate pretty much your whole life to a sport … it’s pretty nice that people recognize it,” he said.
Perk credited his many mentors and coaches growing up with his success as a member of the wrestling community, but also as a member of society in general. He’s been able to take the lessons learned on the mat and apply them throughout his life, he said, whether it was commercial fishing, working as the athletic director or his personal relationships.
Because wrestling is very much a sport that takes time to learn, participants don’t usually start out winning, Perk said.
“You learn how to lose. You learn how to pick yourself off the mat by yourself,” he said. “… I look back at what I learned in wrestling and … every year I picked up something else.”
Now, Perk said he’s driven to give some of that back. He said it’s similar with other former wrestlers in the state who are now coaches. Kimber, for example, wrestled with Perk at Pacific University. Both were coached by Mike Clock, who Perk said still joins him every summer to fish.
“If somebody took the time to help develop me, why would I not pass that along to others?” he said. “… I’m just going to continue to do my part.”
Perk said he encourages families to think about getting their kids involved in wrestling. Homer’s Popeye Wrestling Club will be running through the next few months, which is a good time to get kids started.
“I think it’s one of those sports that everybody should try because it is such a unique sport,” he said. “You’re putting your own training tactics, your own mental thoughts against somebody else out on the mat.”